Protecting Camera Lenses

High-quality optics are essential for sharp photos. That’s why we photographers are willing to shell out significant funds to purchase lenses that are faster, sharper and all-around better than the standard kit lenses that usually come with cameras. But once we’ve begun investing in expensive, quality glass, we have a new concern: keeping it safe and intact. There are lots of ways to damage these delicate devices, no matter how durably they’re manufactured. So, here’s a look at protecting camera lenses from four common dangers.

Dust And Dirt

Dust and dirt are always a problem, but especially when working outdoors or in particularly harsh environments. It’s also the kind of thing that builds up over time with enough use. (Don’t take my word for it. Use your camera for a couple of years and then examine the nooks and crannies around the dials and buttons and see all the gross debris that’s gathered there.) All that stuff is trying to get inside your lenses, and it’s aided sometimes by a vacuum effect that can pull dust into the body when the zoom mechanism is used. So how can you fight the effects of all this dirt and debris from ruining your glass and then your pictures?

First and foremost, use an air blower such as the Giottos Rocket to remove dust from the surface of the lens as well as the front element. Avoid using cloth on dirty elements when they might have the opposite of the intended effect and turn a soft cloth into sandpaper scratching the glass. It also helps to store cameras and lenses in a case or bag rather than allowing them to gather dust on an open shelf. And, of course, keep lens caps on whenever you’re not shooting. You’ll also want to change lenses quickly and in clean areas, avoiding changes when dust or sand are blowing.

Protecting camera lenses
Giottos Rocket

Protecting Camera Lenses From Scratches

While dust and dirt can be a problem whether inside the lens, on the front element or inside the camera body, they can also become a real issue if they get onto the front element. Enough debris can cause scratches to the lens coatings or, heaven forbid, on the glass itself. The aforementioned blower method for removing debris is certainly preferable to rubbing with a lens cloth, and keeping the lens diligently protected with a lens cap is also a big help. I once ruined a great wide-angle lens by placing it poorly capped inside a photo vest pocket. When the cap fell off, I quickly sandpapered the lens to death. What would have helped in this situation was had I been using a UV filter mounted to the lens in order to protect the expensive glass.

Most of the times I’ve damaged lenses has come when I’m carrying two camera bodies at once or working in an especially physically demanding scenario where the cameras tend to swing around and bang into one another or other things. If this sounds familiar, definitely consider UV filters for protecting camera lenses. After all, the crack in the filter pictured above meant I had to replace a $100 filter rather than a $1,000 lens.

Dents, Dings And Damage

The glass surface may be the most delicate element of a lens, but it’s certainly not the only vulnerable part. Damage to the barrel, filter threads, zoom mechanism and lens mount can also quickly cripple a photoshoot. The most common way these things get broken is from dropping. So how can you protect your lens from damage due to drops? First and foremost, use a camera strap and make sure it’s secure. There has been a trend for some years that traditional camera straps are somehow uncool, and so some photographers prefer wild contraptions and straight-up handholding to the simple functionality and security of a plain old neck strap. Form follows function, folks, and nothing’s more functional than a camera strap. Make sure it’s well secured and you’re well on your way to preventing significant damage.

The other item that will protect your gear is a padded bag or case, of course, and ensuring that if you’ll be shipping or traveling great distances with your gear that you unmount lenses (particularly long telephotos or zooms) lest you put too much torque on the mount and risk damaging it. This same caution is why long and heavy lenses often come with a tripod mounting collar, so the weight of the lens isn’t cantilevered from the mount but instead supported from below. The other, and perhaps simplest, technique for protecting camera lenses from fall damage is to ensure when you make lens changes you minimize the height from which a dropped lens could fall. That means changing lenses at or just above the surface of a table or by getting low to the ground such that a dropped lens falls one foot rather than four. Take pictures long enough and drops are all but inevitable. Try to plan for when, not if.

Protecting camera lenses
Op/Tech Rainsleeve

Protecting Camera Lenses From Moisture

Shooting in the rain is a great way to damage your lenses. That’s why those of us who don’t have to take pictures in wet weather typically choose not to. In a pinch, we’ll use an umbrella or other measures to protect our gear from a sudden shower, but those who must be outside with their cameras in weather take precautions that start with a waterproof camera cover from the likes of Op/Tech USA, Think Tank and Ruggard. These waterproof nylon or clear plastic covers are designed to leave only the front element exposed so that the camera and lens stay protected from rain, sleet and snow in all but the wettest weather.

Diligent photographers also use silica desiccant packets in their camera bags to help dry out equipment, and smart transitioning from extreme cold temperatures to the warm humidity of indoors also prevents moisture and fog. Do this by sealing the equipment in a camera bag, or better still a plastic bag, and slowly moving it from the cold outdoors to a slightly warmer indoor area such as a garage or three-season room, then finally into the warm interior. Any condensation that occurs will happen on the exterior of the bag rather than on, and ultimately in, your cold equipment.

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